It stars none other than the hardest working man in Hollywood, Mr. “Snakes on a Plane” himself: Samuel L. Jackson. Gator (term of endearment) does the vocals for both the protagonist, Afro Samurai, and his sidekick, Ninja Ninja. Ron Perlman is the voice of Afro’s nemesis, Justice. Justice is called #1 and Afro Samurai is called #2 for the headbands they each wear. I will discuss the headbands shortly.
What do I think after the first two episodes? The series has been entertaining for its storyline, quality animation and absurd anachronism.
For the storyline, I think the whole idea of the #1 and #2 headbands is brilliant. The wearer of the #1 headband is considered a god on earth and can only be challenged by the wearer of the #2 headband. As a result, the wearer of the #2 headband is destined to a life of killing, solidarity and, in the case of Afro, blood-boiling revenge. Everyone wants to be a god so there is an endless chain of challengers along #2’s journey to become #1. All #1 has to do is wait for the ultimate #2 to survive and locate him for a life-and-death battle for the #1 headband. You will have to catch a rerun of Episode 1 or read about it using one of the links above to discover how Justice and Afro became #1 and #2, respectively.
If you don’t have cable or Spike TV, it appears you can watch the current week’s “Afro Samurai” episode online. Episode 2 is up now if you hurry.
The animation, like most anime (and The Boondocks), is done overseas, by the masters. The “Afro Samurai” drawing and direction is both artful and cinematic.
As for anachronism, there are so many things so out of place in both space and time, it borders on absurdity. Take Okiko from Episode 2. The character is a Japanese woman who specializes in old-world, holistic medicine. However, midway through the episode she busts out a smartphone with a high-speed data uplink while bathing in the healing waters of a natural outdoor spring. No, I am not making this up. Another example:
Like many, I too have always been fascinated by the legend of Ninjas and Samurai warriors. I actually did a group research paper on Samurai in high school. But, tell me how a dude with a sword battles another dude with a friggin RPG? (You know, those same rocket propelled grenades with the supporting role in “Black Hawk Down”.) I almost fell off the couch when I saw that duel unfold in Episode 1.
Beyond its storyline, artistic animation and fearless morphing of space and time, “Afro Samurai” gets another nod by having the RZA as music creator and director.
The Wu-Tang Clan was one of my favorite groups while in college. However, with full respect, the RZA should hang up his microphone and stick to producing. His flow is bollocks and buttock. He is no Asheru. His lackluster, slack-jawed performance of the “Afro Samurai” lead-in theme is an unfortunate blemish on the series. Asheru set the gold standard for hip-hop intros. Where is Method Man when you need him?
On the other hand, the “Afro Samurai Soundtrack” looks like it could be the truth. It blends the RZA’s beats with hip-hop all-stars like Big Daddy Kane, Talib Kweli, Q-Tip and fellow Wu-Tanger, the GZA (among others). I may check it out.
With “The Boondocks” and “Afro Samurai” I do see a pattern developing. There must be something I like about animated series that have:
- Angry Black dudes with afros as their main characters,
- A recurring or main theme involving the martial arts, and
- Hip-hop soundtracks.
Considering I grew up around, watching and listening to each of the previous elements, that would make a lot of sense purely from a nostalgia standpoint.